Even with Clark’s addition, Ravens not closing door on Pitta return yet

August 13, 2013 | Luke Jones

Even with Clark’s addition, Ravens not closing door on Pitta return yet

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Even as the newly-signed Dallas Clark made the highlight play of Tuesday’s practice with a one-handed catch on a pass thrown behind him in the end zone, Terrell Suggs screamed out, “Calm down, there’s still only one white tight end!”

The 30-year-old linebacker was not only teasing the former Indianapolis Colt but making it clear that the Ravens haven’t forgotten their starting tight end. The injured Dennis Pitta was clearly on Suggs’ mind as he watched the 34-year-old Clark haul in Joe Flacco’s errant pass.

And while the Ravens are pleased with the addition of Clark to boost their depth at a banged-up tight end position, it was an interesting coincidence that coach John Harbaugh revealed after Tuesday’s practice that the Ravens haven’t placed Pitta on season-ending injured reserve yet because they’re unsure that he’ll definitely miss the entire season.

“We’ll put him on IR when we’re certain that he’s out for the year,” Harbaugh said. “We know it’s a serious injury, but when it came back that there was no ligament or cartilage damage, then that maybe gave us some hope. We’re going to wait and see how that bone heals over the first five weeks of the injury and see where we’re at.”

Sidelined since July 27 when he dislocated his hip trying to make a touchdown catch during practice, Pitta still has a difficult rehabilitation process of an estimated four months ahead but has at least a slightly better chance of returning by the end of the 2013 season due to positive MRI results. The Ravens initially said Pitta would be out for the rest of the season and wasn’t even a  candidate for the possibility to return.

Starting last year, the NFL began allowing teams to place one player on IR with a designation to return later in the season. This would likely be the course of action with Pitta if no other long-term injuries arise between now and Sept. 3, the earliest date a team can place one player on the reserve-injured list as “designated to return.” With this label, a player must miss a minimum of eight weeks of games but can begin practicing after six weeks, stipulations unlikely to be much of a factor for Pitta’s expected length of time needed to recover.

While it’s tempting to give Pitta the same treatment offered to linebacker Ray Lewis after he tore his right triceps last October, the designation can only be used for one player whether the individual would be able to return or not, meaning the Ravens could be dealing with a short-handed roster if they were to have another key player go down with a long-term injury early in the season. General manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh must weigh the best-case scenarios for Pitta against the realistic expectations in determining whether he has a good chance to not just return to action but perform at a high level.

Shipley getting starting nod

If any more evidence were needed to determine how close the battle for the starting center job is at this stage in the preseason, run-game coordinator Juan Castillo announced Tuesday that A.Q. Shipley would receive the start in Thursday’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons.

Second-year lineman Gino Gradkowski started in the preseason opener last week and appears to hold the slightest of edges over the newcomer Shipley, who spent last season in Indianapolis. Gradkowski is listed as the starter on the most recent depth chart released by the Ravens public relations staff, but the pair have split reps with the starting offensive line throughout the summer.

“We need to have some separation,” Castillo said. “Somebody has to come to the top. The problem is that they’re both playing really well right now.”

Whoever prevails in the competition will be filling the large shoes of Matt Birk, who retired this offseason after 15 seasons in the NFL and winning his first Super Bowl championship.

Clark sporting No. 87

Clark had worn No. 44 in his nine seasons in Indianapolis and one season in Tampa Bay, but the veteran tight end didn’t even bother asking fullback Vonta Leach if he wanted to work out a deal.

Expressing much respect for the three-time Pro Bowl fullback, Clark instead elected to take No. 87 in what is a tribute to former teammate and good friend Reggie Wayne. The two played together for nine years in Indianapolis with Clark crediting Wayne for helping him a great deal in his career.

“One of my favorite teammates I’ve ever played with, so I told him last night that I got his number and he was pretty pumped about that,” said Clark, who joked that he’ll pretend to wear No. 44 as long as he doesn’t look down at his jersey. “I learned a lot from that guy, so I felt good about having 87.”

Practice attendance

Three players returned to the practice field on Tuesday as offensive lineman Ramon Harewood (knee) and cornerback Chykie Brown (undisclosed) each returned from ailments and linebacker Courtney Upshaw was back with the team after being excused for the last two days for the birth of his son.

Players not practicing included defensive tackle Marcus Spears (hamstring), wide receivers Deonte Thompson (foot) and Marlon Brown (undisclosed), tight ends Ed Dickson (hamstring) and Pitta, cornerback Chris Johnson (undisclosed), linebacker Jameel McClain (neck), offensive lineman Ryan Jensen (foot), and defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (knee).

Harbaugh revealed that Spears has been dealing with a minor hamstring injury that’s kept him out of action since the first preseason game, but the coach expects Spears to return soon but wouldn’t specify a timetable, making it unlikely he’ll play Thursday against the Falcons.

Odds & ends

The Ravens practiced in helmets, shells, and shorts in what amounted to an extended walk-through without any contact on Tuesday. … Clark made it clear that he has plenty of work to do — studying his playbook and working on the field — in order to pick up the Baltimore offense, regardless of his familiarity with offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell from their days together in Indianapolis. “You do your best learning out here, making the mistakes and looking like an idiot and just causing a whole big ruckus and just being in the wrong position. That’s the only way you can truly learn how to play football.” … Veteran wide receiver Brandon Stokley received some first-team reps in his second practice since signing a one-year deal with the Ravens, executing a nice double move faking an inside slant before catching a touchdown pass during an 11-on-11 session. … Baltimore will have a walk-through on Wednesday that will be closed to media in preparation for their second preseason game.

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